I couldn't really find the meaning 'anyways' takes in this specific context:

What Exactly Is a Quartz Crystal, Anyways?

Each of the four definitions of anyways listed in this dictionary, for example, seem to have a meaning that's different, at least I couldn't easily match, to the one used in the above sentence.

Source: The heading of this electronics article.


5 Answers 5


It’s this OED definition (under anyway):

Used for emphasis at the end of a question; ‘may I ask?’, ‘would you say?’ Also sometimes used to indicate firmer intent to direct the conversation, or to register scepticism, exasperation, etc.: ‘anyhow’, ‘more to the point’.

In much the same way, exactly also adds emphasis.

Another example of “anyway(s)” being used in a title like this is Whose Line Is It Anyway? which is the title of two TV series: a British one and its American remake.

  • 3
    The TV series mentioned derives it name from the drama entitled "Whose life is it anyway?" where the theme was voluntary euthanasia and the "anyway" was an expression of the frustration of he main character. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whose_Life_Is_It_Anyway%3F_(film)
    – bvanlew
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 12:58
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    @bvanlew Is there any evidence (apart from an uncorroborated statement in Wikipedia) about the "life --- line" derivation of the title? "Expressions like "whose turn is it anyway" in a game playing situation are commonplace in English, and of course the entire show is a satire on TV game shows.
    – alephzero
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 19:40
  • @alephzero No I have no evidence. In fact I didn't even read the Wikipedia entry you are referring to - I simply 'knew' of the connection. Of course it's possible that this is pre-internet urban legend but the euthanasia drama was ground breaking at the time, won many awards, and was much discussed on TV and in the newspapers, so it had a quite a mind-share among even non-theatre-goers. My memory is that when I first heard the title of the comedy show I immediately associated it with the drama. Popular culture does have quite an influence on the way we think about our own language.
    – bvanlew
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 9:09

Anyways is in increasingly common usage, but is still considered to be incorrect. It is a colloquial or slang form of the word anyway - which is the word you have looked up.

Of the definitions in your dictionary link, the first is the meaning of the word in the sentence:

  1. (conjunctive) Regardless; anyhow.

The overall sentence carries a further shade of meaning as outlined below.

'Anyway' needs to relate to something, and as the title of the article doesn't have any context there is nothing for 'anyway' to relate to. Because of that, as a stand alone sentence the title does not appear to make sense.

However this kind of construct is commonly used. If you presuppose that the reader has an awareness of the subject (quartz crystals), but may not have detailed knowledge, then the use of 'anyway' is used to relate to that awareness which is the implied context of the title.

Against the background of this interest the question

What exactly is a quartz crystal, anyways?

is phrased in a conversational style to probe whether the presupposed awareness of quartz crystals is based on knowledge.

In the article itself, in the first paragraph it states "... would you ever have thought that quartz crystals would become pervasive electronic components ..." carrying on the conversational style and going on to provide information about quartz crystals and so anwers the question in the title. Interestingly, although the title does include the word exactly, it is only providing information into the relevance of the general awareness regarding use in electronic circuits. In the first paragraph it provides information about the mineral structure and freely admits "(not sure what that means...)"

The same construct might be used in converation when someone is making a fuss about any trend or fad - the intention is to ask

Do you really know what this thing is that everybody's talking about (or are you just talking about it)?

Without using 'anyway' this shade of meaning is not present. For example, just asking:

"What exactly is a quartz crystal?"

or "What is a quartz crystal, exactly?"

Does not carry the implication of a presupposed general level of background interest or awareness in the same way.

  • 1
    "Anyways is in increasingly common usage but is still considered to be incorrect. It is a colloquial or slang form of the word anyway". Yes. Regional/rural dialect. I won't say 'hayseed'. Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 7:28
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    The title of the article makes perfect sense on its own, and does not "challenge whether that presupposed interest in quartz crystals is based on knowledge." It is an informative article on the basic facts and usage of quartz crystals in electronic circuits.
    – JRE
    Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 11:54
  • @JRE Thanks for your comment. In the title what does anyway relate to? The OP looked up the word in the dictionary and could not understand what it relates to, so I confirmed that on its own the title does not make sense. In the article it states "... would you ever have thought that quartz crystals would become pervasive ..." confirming that is written against a background of awarenes and/or interest in quartz crystals, for people without the knowledge it contains. Many questions are posted by people who are not native speakers who struggle to understand the meaning of phrases, not words. Commented Sep 20, 2019 at 12:32
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    So the article title doesn't make sense to you, Rob, but it looks clear enough to me and @JRE. This usage of "exactly" and "anyway" is something I've seen before. To me, it indicates that the article intends to stop and take a closer look at the how/why of something that people often use for a common purpose without examining. It doesn't bother me at all if it's not easy to see how the dictionary definitions of "anyway" fit this usage; as a native speaker I just know this is a construct I'm familiar with. So it's a good ELL.SE question because the dictionary doesn't easily clarify. Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 19:47
  • I wanted to upvote for the first paragraph, "anyways" is a corruption of "anyway" here. But the rest of the answer doesn't look good. Article titles in the form of a question imply that the article body answers the question; they're not a challenge to potential readers. Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 19:49

The other answers are right from a grammatical point of view, but I'd like to add some context, which I think is important to better understand that title.

Many years ago, the late Bob Pease — a legendary1 electronic designer from National Semiconductors — wrote a series of articles (which can be found at this link) about various aspects of electronic design: each article in the series had a title of the type

What's all this X stuff, anyhow?

So, in this case, the form of the quoted title with the final anyways, at variance from anyhow, is probably just a subtle homage to Bob Pease.

1I'm not overstating.

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    Great additional contextual information. I would very much like that to be true ... Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 20:34

Laurel's answer is correct, but sometimes it is helpful to understand how the meaning in context arose out of other, possibly more common, meanings of the word. There is a longer expression, "in any case", which basically means "we may be unsure about some things, but what I am about to tell you is true no matter if we are right or wrong about those things." That is, "what I am going to say is true in any of the possible cases."

That's a natural thing to say in a transition. We may not be sure about a difficult work issue, but, in any case, lunch would be a good idea. We don't have to figure out our work issue to agree that we should go to lunch.

When it gets used in that way a lot, it can start to serve merely to say "let's stop focusing on what we were talking about, and address this other issue."

"Anyway", or the less formal "anyways", I think started out meaning basically the same thing as what "in any case" means now. But over time, it has come mainly to play the role of redirecting your attention rather than expressing the more specific concept that you are about to say something that doesn't depend on which way an earlier discussion might be resolved.

And so "What exactly is X, anyways" basically invites you to imagine that there has been a discussion involving X somehow, but that the speaker wants you to ignore that broader discussion and just answer the question of what X is.


In this case, 'anyways' has a few different ways in which it could be being used.

  1. Used in the same way as “nonetheless” or “regardless”; you were talking about something else or perhaps something that you didn't agree on about quartz crystal.
  2. It can also be used to signal the continuation of an interrupted story; you were telling someone about quartz crystal when someone interrupted you, or you went off topic and now you are coming back to the main point.
  3. Offence: the tone of how this statement is said should tell you whether the person is being polite or perhaps trying to make a rude remark about what someone else has said about quartz crystal.
  4. Someone has been telling you a long story about quartz crystal whilst you sat there patiently, and you shyly ask 'what exactly is quartz crystal, anyway?'.

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